Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review

This is an advert for August 2022. Any edits / shares beyond this date have not been asked or paid for. Prices and information correct as of August 2022. Please check with DFDS for the most up to date information.  

I feel like we're fairly lucky living where we do and having a port offering daily direct crossings to Amsterdam on our doorstep. I have travelled from Newcastle-Amsterdam with DFDS a fair few times over the years, both as part of a mini cruise and as part of our holiday to Duinrell & Efteling where we travelled with our own vehicle. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review

Personally, I love travelling this way. I feel like the second you step on board, your holiday starts. I know we'll travel this way again and I already have my eye on a trip to Center Parcs in the Netherlands as a future holiday option. 

Don't forget to scroll to the bottom of this post for some FAQs. 

In this post, I'm going to share with you our recent Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise experience. This is the second time we've taken this specific trip and it's an ideal weekend break idea for families or somewhere to consider if you feel like you've exhausted your options for days out and would like to try something new. 

Trip Overview 

The Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise is available from £79 per person and this includes two overnight stays in a cabin, return coach transfers to the zoo, zoo tickets and some on board entertainment. 

Meals, drinks, the cinema and amusement arcades are available for an additional charge. 

You check in at Port of Tyne Passenger Terminal which is just past Royal Quays Outlet. There is a drop off point, buses stop nearby or you can park in their secure car park (it's £24 to park for the weekend). 

Check in opens at 2:30pm and closes at 4:15pm. If you live fairly close, you should be able to pick the kids up from school on a Friday and head straight to check in.

Mini Cruises depart daily and are perfect as a school holiday treat too. The cheapest departure days are usually a Sunday or a Wednesday which is something you may wish to consider if travelling with pre-schoolers. 

The ship leaves Newcastle at 5pm and you arrive in Amsterdam the following morning at around 9:45am. All timings are approximate as it can depend on travelling conditions etc....... 

Once docked, you depart the ship, go through passport control and there are staff waiting at the terminal to direct you to your coach. It's not like an airport with lots of people holding up signs and clipboards at all - generally, you are the only ship arriving and it will only be DFDS coaches waiting for you. It would be difficult / impossible to get lost. 

The staff will direct you to the next coach and once it's full, you set off for Amsterdam. You drop off in Amsterdam Centre first of all so kind of get a mini tour of the city from your seat before heading to the zoo. 

You should arrive at Amsterdam Zoo between 11am and 11:30am. Your driver will drop you off at the entrance, let you know what time the coach will pick you up and give you your zoo tickets so you don't need to queue at a ticket office. 

We were collected from the Zoo entrance just after 3pm and our ship left Amsterdam at 5:30pm. We were back in Newcastle for around 9:15am the following morning. The timings work so well for a weekend break as you still have your full Sunday to rest / complete homework etc....


We have always travelled in a standard sea view cabin as this fits in with our budget. Cheaper non-sea view cabins are available if you're on a tight budget but if you can, the sea view really is worth it. 

On previous trips, we have stayed in a five berth cabin which is very similar to the cabin below but one side has triple bunks. Five berth cabins are ideal for families with younger children but now that my kids are older, we generally always book two rooms wherever we stay and we're thankful for the extra space.

There aren't too many five berth cabins available and they do go quickly so if you'd like to book one, try and book well in advance.

On this trip, we booked two rooms - myself and Dee in one room and Steve, Harry and Jack in the room next door. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - sea view 4 berth cabin

Cabins are basic but clean. Beds are made up for you and there are towels provided. There is a small vanity area with a mirror, chair and plug socket (there's only one plug socket and it's a european plug socket - I recommend bringing an adaptor and a USB extension if you have multiple devices to charge). 

There's a waste paper bin and each cabin can be temperature controlled. We travelled in 30C heat and our cabin stayed lovely and cool with cool air being circulated constantly. 

Once you leave port, you won't have access to free WiFi and if you'd like to use your phone's data at sea, it's extremely expensive. In the past, we've downloaded films to our phone before our trip and just had a bit of a social media break which is actually nice. 

If you do wish to purchase WiFi on board, you can but again, it's not cheap (see here for pricing). If you stay in an upgraded Commodore Cabin, complimentary WiFi is included which is a nice perk. 

We did purchase WiFi on this particular trip and it worked very well. How good is modern technology! 

Back to the cabin and there is a bathroom including a shower and toilet too. Again, all basic but clean and does the job. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - standard cabin bathroom

In the evening if required, you simply pop down the upper bunk. I always find the beds to be comfortable and get a good night's sleep. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - standard cabin bunks

The following snaps were taken through our cabin window. Gorgeous views! 

If you prefer something a little more luxurious, premium cabins are available and they look lovely. Some come with additional perks such as lounge access.

For me, I will 100% stay in a premium cabin in the future, especially if I'm travelling with just Steve or with less children but at the moment when we're travelling as a family of 5, the standard cabins serve us just fine and are perfectly comfortable. You can read more about premium cabins here.  

Where to Eat in the Evening 

On our outbound journey, we dined in Explorer's Kitchen. This is an international all you can eat buffet with a kids section and vegan and vegetarian options too. 

If pre-booked, it costs £22 for ages 12+ and £10.50 for ages 4-11. Infants aged 0-3 dine free. You need to make a reservation and this can be done in advance or if you head to the restaurant reception when you board you can make it then (we were able to book our preferred time of 7pm doing this). 

On our sailing, the restaurant was busy and not taking 'walk ins' until after 9pm so I would strongly recommend booking in advance. 

I have dined in this restaurant on several occasions over the past 8 years and can hand on heart say it's the best it's ever been and I do think dining in this restaurant offered good value for us. 

Drinks are chargeable and can be ordered from your server. We paid for drinks with contactless when we ordered - it was around 20 euros for 5 large soft drinks. Bottles of wine started at 20 euros. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - Explorers Kitchen Menu

The choice is fantastic. We all enjoyed three courses featuring dishes from around the world. Everything was replenished regularly.

Highlights for us were the fresh breads and dips, smoked salmon, baby squid and caeser salads to start. 

The kids were super pleased to see a pizza and chips station. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - Pizza / Kids Buffet

There are lots of healthier options too including a yummy salad bar and the 'build your own taco' station was a real hit too. 

The desserts were brilliant  - there is a cheese station with loads of different types of cheeses and fruit. Cheese heaven! As well as little cakes / mousses. 

Although it's an all you can eat buffet, it wasn't too manic at all and the setting overlooking the sea is lovely. 

Don't miss the ice cream bar which was a real hit with the kids. 

We found plenty of choice for all of us and were very satisfied. The quality was excellent and I was really pleased to see lots of seafood options included too which felt like a bit of a treat. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - ice cream bar

On our return journey, we dined at North Sea Bistro which is a table service restaurant offering a more luxurious evening. 

On the day of our trip, this was priced at 39.95 euros per adult for three courses and 11.95 euros per child for 2 courses and a drink (they weren't too strict about age limit for this menu). 

I really enjoyed this restaurant. The service was fantastic and the food was delicious and beautifully presented. It's the kind of place where they'll top your wine up for you as you relax and enjoy the sea views. 

Again, you can book in advance or on the day here. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - North Sea Bistro Kids Menu

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - North Sea Bistro Menu

The menu is impressive and offers very good value. We dined on scallops, steak and chocolate fondant without having to pay a supplement. If you compare prices to somewhere like Miller & Carter, the menu is an absolute steal. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - Steak from North Sea Bistro

Although a little more formal, children are very welcome here and as everything is freshly prepared, they can amend dishes. For example, they didn't have any veggie pasta on the menu but it was no problem for them to create this for Dee. 

I also like that a lot of the kids dishes are presented 'build your own' style like this kids burger where you add your own salads and sauces. It makes life much easier for parents of fussy eaters.

Below is the children's banana split - the kids were in heaven! 

Our meal in North Sea Bistro was just beautiful and for me, it had the edge over Explorers Kitchen. I'd recommend if you're looking for a relaxing meal with good food, attentive service and beautiful presentation. 

There are a couple of more informal options for grabbing a bite to eat too - Coffee Crew next to Pirate Island children's play area serves drinks, cakes and pastries and in the bar you can order loaded nachos (they looked fab and the portions were huge) and Danish Sharing Boards. There are a few other snacks like crisps and ice creams in some of the bars too. 


If you're travelling as part of a mini cruise, I definitely recommend adding breakfast in Explorer's Kitchen onto your booking. The restaurant is open from around 7am until you dock and it's a good way to start your day. There is no need to make a reservation for breakfast - simply turn up when you're ready. I do recommend booking and paying in advance for the best prices though. 

When booked in advance, breakfast is £8.75 per adult (ages 12+), £6.15 for children (aged 3-11) and under 3s are free. 

Breakfast is again, an all you can eat affair and juices, tea and coffee are included too. The coffee is actually pretty decent - it's all made up in flasks and you just pick one up for your table rather than having to queue for a coffee machine. 

Everything you'd expect from a breakfast buffet is available - fresh fruit, yoghurt, pastries, jams, cold meats and cheeses, cereal, hot cooked items (it's continental sausage), breads...... again loads of choice. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - breakfast menu

Alternatively, coffee and pastries are available to purchase from Coffee Crew. 

Activities On Board 

There is a surprising amount of things to do on board and lots to keep you entertained. For me, one of my favourite things to do is to just sit on one of the observation decks and take in the views. It's so peaceful and just such a nice view. 

Try and take in the view from both the front of the ship and the rear if you can. 

After a day of walking around the zoo, I appreciated the opportunity for a massage. These chairs are so good! I actually googled how much one would cost for us to have at home (and was disappointed that they are obviously, way out of our price range). They're 2 euros a shot.

There is a wildlife observation desk where there are often wildlife officers who will help you spot wildlife / chat to you about what you might be able to spot and mention recent sightings. They make an announcement on the ship when wildlife talks are taking place too. These are available at no additional cost.

For children, there's quite a bit to do including a small soft play area on board which is free to use and just next to the coffee shop. 

There's also an on board mascot who walks around the ship and poses for photos, children's games and colouring activities and a treasure hunt around the ship. These are all available at no additional cost. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - Kids Soft Play

The on board duty free shop is decent and there's a large selection of discounted goods available including alcohol, perfume, beauty products, confectionary, clothes, toys and gifts. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - duty free deals

Just to mention, you are not permitted to bring your own alcohol on board or drink anything you purchase from the duty free shop on board. 

There are lots of testers available too. I love choosing a new fragrance or having a quick spritz and a reminder of old favourites. 

There are a couple of bars where all are welcome. Live entertainment generally starts early in the evening and there are a mix of live bands, acoustic singers and games such as bingo to keep you entertained. When the kids were younger I used to bring sticker books which kept them entertained in the bar in the early evenings and now, we bring our favourite card games with us. 

You can find out what's on at various screens across the ship or ask at guest relations. 

Cocktails are 7-9 euros each and very good. I tried the Pina Colada and Frozen Strawberry Daquiri. Both fantastic and properly made rather than being from a pre-made mix. We paid for our drinks using contactless. 

Whisky tasting was one of the activities for adults advertised on board and there is a casino / over 18s gaming area too. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - cocktails

There is an arcade on board and games like mini basket ball and air hockey - bring 1 euro coins with you for here if you can. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - Arcades

Every time we travel with DFDS we say we're going to try the on board cinema. There were six films showing during our trip and tickets are 8.50 euros each - purchase from guest services. We nearly bought tickets to watch Elvis but in the end, decided we were too tired and our beds were calling. We WILL try the cinema one day though. 

My final recommendation is for the Sky Bar. This is on deck 11 and offers the best views when sailing out of dock or to watch the sunset from. It's an outdoor bar but there is some covered seating.

The Sky Bar is super popular, especially on a sunny evening so if you want the best view when leaving port, I'd recommend heading up here as soon as you board to get a table with a cracking view. 

Sailing past Tynemouth Priory with a nice drink in hand is always the best way to start your break and the atmosphere is always nice up here. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - Sky Bar

Amsterdam Zoo Trip 

After an overnight crossing, you arrive in port the following morning, there is a wake up call at 8am and there are announcements on board re: where to go to leave the ship. There are staff to direct you and it's all very straighforward. Once you're through passport control, you are directed to a coach and once it's full, you leave for Amsterdam. 

It takes 30-40 minutes to reach the city depending on traffic. The first part of the journey is past the industrial port areas but as you approach Amsterdam you are treated to some lovely views.

Amsterdam is just as you'd imagine, lots of people passing by on bicycles which I always think is cute to see. Look out for the crazy multi story bike storage facilities which line the streets. 

You'll pass canals too and do get a little bit of a feel for the city during the transfer. You drop off those on the Amsterdam Mini Cruise in the city first and if you're heading to the zoo, stay on board and are dropped off next. It's all explained to you by your driver as you board. The coaches are modern, comfortable and come with seat belts. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - coach transfer

If you're on the Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise, your zoo tickets will be handed to you on board the coach. You simply scan these at the zoo turnstiles to gain entry. 

Amsterdam Zoo (Artis) is, in my opinion, a brilliant zoo to visit. It's flat and easy to walk around with lots of pretty landscaping and shaded areas, there are free drinking water fountains and the signs/information boards are easy to read and follow. You can hire little trolleys for little kids if they get tired at various points around the zoo. 

Just for comparison, Amsterdam Zoo is 25 acres in size compared to Edinburgh Zoo's 82 hectares and Amsterdam Zoo is home to 1350 different species (compared to Edinburgh's 2500). Although Amsterdam Zoo is compact compared to other zoos, there is still lots to see and I would say 3-4 hours with a stop for a snack /drink is the perfect length of time to see it all. 

Artis is one of the oldest zoos in Europe and although I'm no expert, to me the animals all seemed happy and to have plenty of space. The zoo takes part in various conservation and breeding programmes which you can read about here. 

Our day coincided with a hot and sunny day in Amsterdam and a real highlight for us was watching the elephants have fun and cooling down in the water. They literally spent the full day spraying each other with their trunks and swimming. It was so lovely to watch. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - elephants at Amsterdam zoo

Something that really stands out for me with Amsterdam Zoo is that there are quite a lot of indoor enclosures as well as outdoor space making it an ideal place to visit in all weathers. 

We really enjoyed the large reptile and insect houses where we got the chance to see lots of weird and wonderful bugs. Dee is a huge fan of reptiles and I appreciated the opportunity to see so many. 

Although the main aquarium in the zoo is currently closed for major refurbishment, you can still enjoy the Sea Lions and there are fantastic viewing points both above the pool and underneath. It was super relaxing watching them swim by. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - sea lions at Amsterdam zoo

Another area we enjoyed was the walk through tropical butterfly house. I'm a sucker for a butterfly house and walking through the lush greenery with hundreds of butterflies flying around you is always a joy. We felt as if we were in a movie. 

One animal we didn't want to miss was the Gorillas and they really put on a good show. We watched as one had fun playing hide and seek in a big bucket and then another adult Gorilla grooming a baby Gorilla. It was a fascinating behaviour to observe and I think we probably spent the most amount of time with the Gorillas. 

There are a couple of cafes / restaurants and a roving ice cream cart in the zoo. They weren't too busy when we visited. Prices are fairly expensive and they only take card/contactless. 

I highly recommend eating a big breakfast on board before departing and then just ordering a quick snack at the zoo. It's cheaper and helps to make the most of your time there. 

We stopped for ice cream, drinks and Poffertjes which are little pancakes you get all over the Netherlands - they are such a treat. I recommend ordering one or two portions to share between your family. 

There is a nice playground for younger children if you need a break from the animals. 

The walk through Lemur experience is fun - they're so funny and there is a tropical bird house which is home to lots of colourful species and also a Sloth who hangs out in the trees. He was kind of hidden when we walked through but a helpful guide stopped us and pointed him out to us which was nice. 

The Lion is another of the big animals not to be missed and the giraffes and various apes and monkeys were all brilliant to watch too. 

Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise with DFDS | A Review  - Lion at Amsterdam zoo

One personal highlight for me was the Armadillo - ah I just love them! They're just so weird and wonderful. 

We did pop into the gift shop before leaving and it stocked the usual range of stuffed toys and fridge magnets. The kids decided to save their spending money for the duty free shop on board instead. 

Communication between us and the coach drivers was brilliant. The drivers speak English well and our pick up point and time was clearly communicated. It's immediatly outside the main entrance of the zoo and impossible to miss - you just wait for a bus to come along with the DFDS logos on the side. The zoo pick up is first and you stop in Amsterdam before heading back to the ship. 

We boarded the bus at 3:05pm and were through passport control and were back relaxing in the on board bar with a cocktail within around 70 minutes ready to sail home overnight. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise. It's a fairly laid back / relaxed short break and something I'd recommend to families with children of all ages. Or even couples without children as an alternative date idea.

We've taken several zoo mini breaks in the UK over the years and if you consider the cost of two nights in a hotel, zoo tickets, travel and meals, I actually think in a lot of cases, this mini break can work out to be cheaper / the same cost as staying in the UK. If your children love animals and have a good sense of adventure, I think they'll love this trip. 

Find out more, check prices and book your own Amsterdam Zoo Mini Cruise here. 


I thought I'd answer a few of the most common questions I received during our trip. 

What are the Covid restrictions? 

I will start this by saying these can change and are based on our personal visit in August 2022. You can find out the current entry requirements to the Netherlands here.  Personally, we are all fully vaccinnated and were asked about this on check in. We did not have to show proof but they carry out random checks.

Mask wearing is not enforced in the Netherlands or on board but some passengers did wear them. There is plenty of hand sanitiser on board and you are encouraged to use it.  

Is the boat full of Stags and Hens? 

After asking about Covid restrictions, this is the question I was asked most about. Although you can't control the other guests on board and there is no way of knowing who else will be travelling, I've only ever noticed a hen party on board once and they were no bother.

There is a bar with a disco / dance floor on board which is where I think hens / stags would gather if they were on board and it's very easy to avoid here / check out one of the quieter bars or the other enterainment on board.

On this trip, I didn't see any stag or hen parties. I'd recommend avoiding bank holiday weekends and opting for a mid-week break if you'd like to maximise your chances of avoiding groups. However I will also say, I think people's perception on this does not match my experience. I've never encountered drunken behaviour on any of our trips. 

Is Sea Sickness a problem? 

In all of the times we've made this crossing, I've never suffered. I usually buy travel sickness tablets from the pharmacy and we all take one as soon as we start sailing. According to some of my Facebook followers, April - September is the best time to travel to increase your chances of a smooth sailing. 

You do feel the boat gently swaying but it's never been anything extreme during our crossings (ie the glasses stay on our table and we can walk in a straight line). 

Did you take any cash with you? 

We just used Google / Apple Pay to pay for everything as usual. We did take our leftover euro coins for the amusements / massage chairs / tips. 

Do you keep the same cabin? Can you leave your luggage on board? 

This isn't guaranteed but is usually the case. Every time we have sailed with DFDS we've kept the same cabin. I think you'd only need to change if there was a problem with the ship. We were able to leave our luggage in our room during our trip to Amsterdam. 

Can I take my dog? 

You can't take your dog on a mini cruise but they are permitted on ferry crossings. There are pet friendly cabins and there is a special deck area where you can walk your dog too. Make sure you check the guidance re taking a dog to the Netherlands and returning to the UK with a dog before you book. 

Can I take my own food on board? 

You are not permitted to eat your own food in public areas on the ship but can in your cabin. Please check rules re: taking food items into the EU though. You cannot take your own alcohol on board and bags are searched for foot passengers before you board. 

Are there dining options on board which don't require pre-booking? 

Yes, you can grab a pastry or sweet treat from Coffee Crew or nachos/ Danish sharing boards from the bar. Explorers Kitchen and North Sea Bistro may be available for walk ins on the day but it depends on capacity. 

How many people to cabins sleep? 

The largest cabins sleep up to 5 but these do get booked up quickly. If travelling as part of a larger group, you can book multiple cabins. 

Do you get long enough in the zoo? 

We didn't stop for lunch (but did have a snack stop) and felt as if we saw the whole zoo in around 3 hours without feeling rushed so yes, I'd say you do get long enough. 

Plus, your trip isn't just the time in the zoo, it's the whole package including time on board enjoying lovely food, drinks, entertainment and views too. You do feel as if you have had a little break. 

Can I bring a travel cot? 

Unfortunately, there is not enough space in a standard cabin for a travel cot. Bed rails are available and you can reserve a baby bed if you book a Commodore Cabin as these offer more space and a baby bed won't block the door. 

I can't find this deal for £79 person? 

Prices do fluctuate depending on the time of year and demand. For the best prices, try and book as far in advance as you can and pick a Sunday or Wednesday as your departure date. 

On publication, I checked prices and found this trip was £85 per person leaving on 23 October in half term and £71 per person (inside cabin) leaving on 26 October in half term. Obviously these prices will fluctute but I just wanted to share that booking for around £79 per person, is indeed possible. 

1 comment

  1. Thank you so much for your wonderful review!! It's so detailed, insightful and fair- just what I needed to put my mind at ease as we're planning to take our 2 year old and I'm currently 5 months pregnant! Looks like there'll be plenty to keep us all entertained and relaxed!


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